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May 18, 2006

The problem with preachers

Preachers just don't understand. Or do they?

Today, after a firestorm of sharp criticism coming mainly from the activist homosexual community, Bishop Alfred Owens, Jr. (pictured), Pastor of Greater Mt Calvary Holy Church in the District, broke his silence and issued a tersely worded apology/nonapology for his perceived offenses:

"During my Palm Sunday sermon, I used words that the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Men and Women has denounced as offensive ["Gays, God and Bishop Owens," op-ed, May 13]. It was not my purpose to wound anyone or discriminate against any group, and I apologize for any offense.
Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church was in the forefront of delivering help through counseling, education and prevention to the gay community when HIV-AIDS hit hard in the 1980s. For that I was harshly criticized, and the church was stigmatized. Nevertheless, I increased our financial aid and instituted a support group for those who wanted help in pursuing a heterosexual orientation. I will continue the fight to alleviate the suffering of all people.
However, I will not submit my sermons through political filters for fear of recrimination by political or social groups.
On any given Sunday, I preach about love, faith and holiness, and, yes, about hell and sin. For that, I offer no apology."
Pastor, Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, Washington
I have to admit I've felt somewhat tortured over this whole ordeal. One, having grown up in the black church with the same sex attraction struggle and now as a pastor within that same structure, I understand how black preachers can be. I'm not saying that's good. I hadn't said anything (publicly), partly because I was searching for a way to state how I felt without agreeing with gay activists and without fully agreeing with Bishop Owens (who, to me, is symbolic of the typical black preacher).

I know because of where I was at a time in my life, how difficult it was to hear someone get up in church and say things similar to what Bishop Owens said. Yet, I have no condemnation for him, but my feelings are disappointment. That's it. I'm disappointed once again with the lack of understanding that seems to plague our black clergy on the issue of homosexuality.
I will agree with the activists that we have a problem in the church on this issue. That's about it, because my concerns and hoped for solutions sharply divert from them after that.
I'm disappointed not because Bishop Owens said what he said. He said it and he will have to deal with what he said. I'm not disappointed because he has given gay activists (churched and unchurched) another reason to go to war against the church. I'm not disappointed because its a black preacher...again. I have, in a way, come to expect the residual sequencing of these occurrences.

But my heart fell when I read these words from Bishop Owen's apology/nonapology:

"...and instituted a support group for those who wanted help in pursuing a heterosexual orientation."
He's referring to the ministry at GMC headed by my friend and co-laborer Minister Dennis Sawyer. The ministry is there to help homosexual men and women at GMC overcome homosexuality. At least those who want it. I wondered why he hadn't taken the time to highlight this very important ministry, especially considering that the church is alleged to have such a high attendance of homosexuals. But in referring to the goal as "pursuing a heterosexual orientation", I immediately saw that even though he may have set the ministry up, Bishop Owens (like many others) doesn't have a full understanding about overcoming homosexuality. God's desire for us in never to make us heterosexuals as a goal, but that we walk in holiness. With the same level of heterosexual fornication as perhaps homosexual fornication going on in the church today, heterosexuality is not the answer, holiness is. From my perspective, this points to a deeper issue evolving in the homosexual church wars. Pastors don't understand the path and process of freedom from homosexuality. Even the ones with degrees. My greater fear is that a great many don't want to understand, thereby exacerbating the difficulties ministries like mine, Bro Sawyers and others around the country already face. Especially those of us who are working within the "black church" framework.

I felt the same way I felt when in 2003 COGIC's Bishop Charles Blake of Los Angeles allowed gay religionist and activist Peter Nomes into the West Angeles pulpit, then defended the man who thumbs his nose at biblical standards of sexual morality. Betrayed and disappointed.
Why don't they know that? Or do they only apply it to every other struggle except homosexuality? No wonder people get discouraged. Pursuing heterosexuality instead of holiness creates the perfect inversion of Matthew 6:33. I believe Bishop Owen's heart is in the right place, but sadly, feelings without knowledge can be destructive.

Okay, there is so much more to this, I will probably have to do it in several installments. Stay tuned. Comments open for only a short time.

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